Audit: Missouri Senate should do more to stop sex harassment

Sexual harassment text on cardboard

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office on Monday said the state Senate should increase sexual harassment training following scandals last year.

More frequent education for senators and staff, who now generally undergo training only when they start work, was one of the several recommendations for improvement that the Democratic auditor suggested for the Republican-led Senate in the audit covering June 2013 through June 2015. Her office also reviewed the GOP-led House.

The advice follows the resignations of former House Speaker John Diehl, who admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with an intern, and former Sen. Paul LeVota, who has denied allegations of sexually harassing interns. Both stepped down in 2015.

The House in response now requires annual sexual harassment training for members and staff. Galloway recommended the Senate also train members more often.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard did not immediately return an Associated Press request for comment Monday, but the Senate responded in the audit that has a “long-standing policy of requiring members and employees to complete sexual harassment training.”

“The Senate will review employer best practices and consider implementing more frequent training of members and employees,” the response said.

Galloway’s office also cited issues with transparency among some legislative committees.

The audit found that records of some committee meetings were not made, were missing or didn’t include enough information. Galloway’s office cited the Senate Administration Committee as one example, which the audit said did not always properly document how each member voted during closed sessions.

The Senate said the state Constitution allows it to make its own policies but that it will “continue to strive to promote transparency in its internal legislative committee record keeping procedures.”

The House noted it started in the 2015 legislative session using a digital record-keeping system aimed at documenting meetings better.

House Speaker Todd Richardson in a statement said the House took the audit recommendations “very seriously and will review its findings with an eye on improving the way we do business here in the House.”

“As Speaker, I have made it a priority to restore the public’s trust in state government and my goal is to continue building that trust by improving the way we operate as an institution,” Richardson said.

Both the House and Senate have said the Sunshine Law doesn’t apply to individual lawmakers’ emails and other records. But there’s no clear policy that shows which legislative documents are closed to the public and which are open, the audit said.

Galloway’s office also recommended that the Senate shut down a bank account used for contributions solicited from lobbyists in order to pay for late-night meals for senators and staff, which the audit said could give the appearance of or lead to a conflict of interest.

The Senate responded that account activities are “transparent” and reported to the state Ethics Commission. The Senate agreed to look for other ways to buy meals, but said: “there is no apparent solution that works operationally for the Senate.”

The audit noted members of the House Interim Education Committee in 2013 asked lobbyists to give $1,000 to help rent a tour bus for the committee, a practice that would have been banned under legislation that failed to pass this year.

Both chambers will consider adding whistleblower protection policies to employee handbooks based on advice from the auditor.

Galloway’s office questioned some paid time off for legislative employees that were not given to other state workers and said more documentation was needed to justify some raises.

The House said employees work long hours during a session and are paid less than staff in executive branch offices. The extra paid time off compensates for that, it argued. The Senate similarly said extra paid time off is meant to make up for additional employee work.

The Senate said it now only approves raises with written documentation from supervisors.